Partisanship Threatens Efforts to Solve Mail-in Voter Fraud in Texas

AUSTIN--Just mention voter fraud to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and you'll see a twinkle in his eyes.The shenanigans in West Dallas and Grand Prairie involving the illegal manipulation of the mail-in ballot system has given Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton a way to argue the need for draconian measures to fight voter fraud. Democrats are partially to blame. Many elected leaders looked the other way when it was obvious something was amiss with mail-in ballot programs in Democratic Party strongholds. And they criticized members of their own party who dared to speak out, like former state Rep. Steve Wolens, who more than a decade ago was instrumental in pushing through election law changes to curb mail-in ballot abuse.Attempts to clean up election fraud should be a bi-partisan issue embraced by everyone who cares about fair elections.Sadly, politics prevents both sides from truly coming together to fix to overhaul election laws to not only stamp out fraud, but increase voter participation.Political grandstandingEven as the Dallas mail-in ballot controversy is leading to potential changes for the better, political grandstanding is threatening to bring division.On Tuesday, a day after lawmakers filed to bills that would increase penalties for mail-in ballot fraud, the Dallas County Republican Party was using the issue to raise money."Don't believe the Democrats when they say that voter fraud is a myth," stated the fundraiser email from Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Phillip Huffines. "Voter fraud is real, and it's happening right here in Dallas."Such hype bothers state Rep. Eric Johnson, a Dallas Democrat who has sought to work with Republicans and law enforcement officials to curb the abuse of elderly voters in West Dallas, which is part of the district he represents.Johnson is in a tricky spot. When he comes out hard against mail-in voter fraud, it gives Republican rivals opportunities to exploit the issue. The alternative is even worse."If I say anything about mail-in ballot abuse the Republicans will use it for a partisan advantage," Johnson said. "If I'm silent, the elderly will have their votes stolen."As Johnson points out, some Republicans don't distinguish between mail-in voter fraud and in-person voter fraud at polling places. In-person voter fraud is extremely rare.So the GOP is using instances of mail-in voter fraud to push Voter ID laws that critics say disenfranchises some residents.Broadening participationAt the same time, Abbott and others rarely talk about creating measures to broaden ways people can vote or increase voter participation.It's in this political backdrop that lawmakers hope to put aside petty partisan politics and actually develop laws to solve the nagging problem of operatives abusing the elderly, infirm and others during mail-in ballot campaigns.Bills in the Senate and House that will be considered during the current special legislative session appear to narrowly address ways to improve the absentee ballot system, and does not veer into what Democrats would call voter suppression. That's a good first step.Even last session Johnson worked with Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, to protect seniors in nursing homes from being abused by vote harvesters.Oliverson was pleased with the bi-partisan approach.Hopefully in the next session lawmakers from both parties can get together on meaningful election law reform.If that happens, there will be room for everyone to claim victory.  Continue reading...

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